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The American Crow

Updated on April 04, 2015
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Science, nature and the environment, with regard to human impact, are subjects to which Chris applies his passions for research and writing.

The American Crow

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Introducing the American Crow

American crows can be seen all across the North American continent. Often considered pests, these birds are actually among the most intelligent creatures on the planet. They display problem solving skills, make and utilize tools and even engage in play. This article will describe these aspects of the American crow and more. Also included are a comparison chart and visual comparison of the American crow and the common raven so that the two can be distinguished since they are often seen together.

The American Crow in Flight

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Calls of the American Crow

To use these sound links, right click and choose "open in new tab." Otherwise it will take you from this page.

Crow call-Typical

Rattling-Guttural sound

Juvenile-Begging

By Jonathon Jongsma (http://www.xeno-canto.org/80525) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Physical Characteristics of the American Crow

Sub species of the American crow:

  • Eastern
  • Western
  • Florida
  • Southern

Size of the American crow

  • Length-About 16 to 21 inches (40-53 cm) Approximately 40% of the crows length is its tail.
  • Weight-11.1 to 21.9 ounces (316 to 620 grams)
  • Wingspan-33 to 39 inches (85 to 100 cm)

Other physical characteristics of the American crow:

  • The American crow can be recognized by its black feet, legs, body and beak. A juvenile might have some yellow in the beak.
  • The beak is long and straight, measuring from 1.2 to 2.2 inches (3 to 5.5 cm)
  • Thick necked
  • Lifespan-7-8 years in wild. Up to 30 years in captivity.
  • Flight-steady, low rowing wingbeats. Does not soar.

American Crow Distribution

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A Bird Identification App for your iPhone

The Habitat of American Crows

Crows can be found just about everywhere in the lower 48 states except the deserts of the southwest and in the extreme northwest. The Northwestern crow, which dominates the Pacific Northwest, and the American crow are closely related. They were separated by the glaciation west of the rockies during the ice age. The Northwestern crow dominates the Pacific Northwest except where the two species co-occur in the Seattle area. The Northwestern crow is slightly smaller. Wherever crows are found, they are most certainly looking for food.

  • Farm fields-seeds, rodents, earth worms
  • Dumps/landfills-garbage
  • Roads/roadsides-carrion
  • Parks/city streets/campgrounds-garbage
  • Forests/woods-seeds, insects, fruit, small animals

American Crow Egg

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Mating and Nesting Habits of American Crows

American crows are monogamous. The Mated pair will form a large family over the course of several breeding seasons, numbering up to 15 individuals. The offspring from previous breeding seasons assist with feeding the nestlings and helping them learn to identify predators. The young reach breeding age after two years, but will usually not leave their parents to breed for 4 to 5 years.

Nesting season begins in April. Crows build large, bulky nests of sticks, mud, weeds, grass, moss and feathers. They usually choose a nest site that is 10 to 70 feet above the ground, mostly in trees, but occasionally in large bushes but rarely on the ground. They prefer oak trees, but will also use large conifers. The female lays 3 to 6 eggs which incubate in 18 days. The young have feathers and are ready for flight (fledged) in about 36 days after hatching.

"Murder" or "Flock?" Which is Your Preference?

While it is true that the actual name for a group of crows is a "murder," it has also been mentioned that only poets use that term. Scientists use the more common word, "flock."

Interesting Behaviors of American Crows

Mobbing-Occasionally crows are heard giving a harsh, drawn out caw and diving into a treetop. They are likely attempting to drive out a larger bird such as a hawk, owl or eagle that is a danger to their young. Once the predator flies from the tree, the crows will chase it until it leaves the area.

Play-One common behavior trait among animals of higher intelligence is activity of playing. Crows have been observed carrying a small stone into the air and dropping it, then swooping down to catch it before the stone hits the ground. Many accounts of crows playing in a variety of ways have been reported including playing with other species of animals, such as dogs.

Crow funerals-It may be a stretch to call them funerals, but these birds have been seen gathering in large groups around the body of a dead crow with which the particular living crows were familiar.

The Intelligence of the American Crow

Audubon Plush Bird (Authentic Bird Sound)

The Intelligence of American Crows

After viewing the above video, the screen should reveal other videos about the intelligence of crows which you can continue viewing. For best results, click on the Youtube icon in the lower, left hand corner to watch it on the Youtube site.

Crows have been known to make and use tools such as forming a long, slender stick to poke into holes in the bark of trees. Insects attach themselves to the stick and the crow withdraws the stick and eats the insects.

In captivity, crows have been given a beaker containing water and a floating worm at too low a level for the bird to reach. Beside the beaker is a pile of stones. The crows drop the stones into the beaker, thereby raising the water level until they can reach the worm.

Scientists consider the American crow to have the problem solving skills of a 7 to 8 year old, human child.

The American Crow and West Nile Virus

In 1999, the West Nile virus was carried to the United States from Africa. Crows have proven to be highly susceptible to the virus. Wherever West Nile virus takes hold, crows are among the first casualties. For this reason, crows have become a sentinel species indicating the presence of West Nile virus in a particular region. Since 1999, the American crow population has been reduced by 45% due to West Nile virus. Despite this rapid decline, the American crow is not considered to be endangered.

Differences Between the Common Raven and the American Crow

Common Raven
American Crow
Broad, wedge shaped tail
Square/rectangular tail
Larger than crow
Smaller than raven
"Roman nose" beak
Long, straight beak
Soars, rarely flaps wings
Does not soar, low, constant flapping of wings

Comparison of the Common Raven and the American Crow

Common raven
Common raven | Source
American crow
American crow | Source

The Main Differences Between the Common Raven and the American Crow

The main things to look for when trying to decide if you are looking at a common raven or an American crow are the tail and how the bird flies. The common raven has a broad, wedge shaped tail, while the American crow has a smaller, narrower tail. When the common raven is flying, it soars, almost never flapping its wings. The American crow almost never soars and flaps constantly. Also, when seen together, the raven is markedly larger than the American crow.

Common ravens and American crows inhabit most of the North American continent, and often are seen together, even playing together. Both are of the common raven is Corvus corax. The scientific name of the American crow is Corvus brachyrhynchos. Both birds are of the genus, corvus.

Differences Between the Common Raven and American Crow by Wing Pattern (Click on thumbnail)

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Notice the broad, wedge shaped tail of the common raven.Notice the narrow, more rectangular shaped tail of the American crow.
Notice the broad, wedge shaped tail of the common raven.
Notice the broad, wedge shaped tail of the common raven. | Source
Notice the narrow, more rectangular shaped tail of the American crow.
Notice the narrow, more rectangular shaped tail of the American crow. | Source

American Crows, One of the Most Intelligent Species on Earth

The next time you see, or more than likely you will hear them first, the American crow, spend a few minutes observing their behavior, listening to their calls, seeing how they interact with each other.

These are remarkable birds which have been denigrated by many, and overlooked by most. Actually, these magnificent birds are among the most intelligent animals on the planet, in the company of whales, dolphins and chimpanzees.

Place some raw peanuts in-the-shell or some small sized pet food in your back yard and see if you can attract these very social and entertaining birds to your property.

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    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 24 months ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      Kitty, thanks for coming over to read my article. I'm glad I found your hub because it added a whole new dimension to my understanding of these birds. Have a nice weekend.

    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Nicole Canfield 24 months ago from the Ether

      I voted up, useful, and interesting. I had no idea that crows have been known to have "funerals" for each other...wow. This article just added to my fascination with them! Thank you for sharing your knowledge on the topic...they are truly intelligent birds that have gotten a bad rap.

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 2 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      Melody, It's great to hear that so many people have recognized the special place this family of birds plays in the animal kingdom. You are right in saying that we understand very little about them and their behavior. Thanks for reading. Your article on the Western scrub jay was excellent as well.

    • MelRootsNWrites profile image

      Melody Lassalle 2 years ago from California

      Chris, this was a really informative. I've come to respect crows and their intelligence. I believe we have so much to learn about them, their social order, and why they do what they do (like how they love to play). Thanks for explaining the difference between crows and ravens. I was never quite clear on that.

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 2 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      Kimberly, thanks for reading, and I hope you see some interesting things as you watch the crows.

    • Kimberly Vaughn profile image

      Kimberly Vaughn 2 years ago from Midwest

      Great info! Looking forward to observing the crowd by my house now that I know more about them!

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 2 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      Deb, thanks. Whew, that's over. I figured you would eventually read the article. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'll have to go look to see if you've written specifically about the corvids. Yes, fascinating birds. Thanks again.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      All the corvids--ravens, crows, magpies, jays--are remarkable and wonderful birds.. They are all rather irritating to other animals in some ways, strictly for their own enjoyment. If you have ever provided a service to these birds, they will remember for a good seven years. I adore the corvids, and you did a nice intro with this.

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 2 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      Eric, Ravens are in the same family, closely related to crows, so I'm sure the intelligence of the raven is right up there as well. I'm glad the information was helpful.

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 2 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      Kristen, I'm glad you enjoyed the hub...and the egg :) Thanks for the up vote.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Fantastic article on a great bird. Thank you for the distinction with the Raven -- I needed that. In our Southwestern desert outside of cities they seem to do real well -- Ravens that is.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Great hub Chris on the American crows. That egg was pretty amazing to see in a photo, too. Very useful on your bird knowledge. Voted up!

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 2 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      It seems like the fairer sex prefers the name Christopher. I am just Chris, but like I said, quite often I'm called by the longer name.

      I'm glad you are starting that article. I think you will find some very powerful information to pass on.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 2 years ago from Central Florida

      You've inspired me. I've started an article. It'll take time and research, but it's in the works.

      BTW, my son's name is Christopher. His friends call him Chris, but I and my mom and dad call him Christopher. It means "carrier of Christ".

      My name, Shauna, is the female derivative of "Shaun", which means "God's Gift".

      Nice to meet you, Chris. Destiny has stricken!

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 2 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      Looking forward to it, Shauna

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 2 years ago from Central Florida

      Chris, you've given me a topic to explore. I'm kinda busy with editing projects right now, but I will definitely add this to my "writing ideas" folder.

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 2 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      Shauna, I would love to read an article by you on the subjects you've mentioned in your comment. Those are very interesting thoughts and ideas. There is no question that the whole corvus genus is well above most of the animal kingdom. Thanks for reading.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 2 years ago from Central Florida

      This is a very interesting article. One thing I've not seen addressed - and would love to see - is the spiritual/tribal meaning of crows as they congregate and/or fly overhead. I've seen telephone wires completely covered with crows, creating a darkened atmosphere, while on my way to work. Were they protecting me? Warning me? Or were they sending me a message I had to decipher on my own?

      The crow, as are many birds, are symbols. Crows are not endangered. Why is that? Perhaps because they are a higher being than Man? Are they connected to God? Indians listen to their message. It would behoove us to do the same.

    • profile image

      christinemariezzz 2 years ago

      Chris,

      I am glad you documented this hub.

      It gave me information I did not know, but believe it must be so; allow me to explain:

      The bird once played in the moist spring foliage( significantly) here in the city waterways of TC. Its movements brought news to me that nothing else could have revealed. Your hub definitely promotes the benefits of the time worthiness to pay attention to these creatures. This bird, here in my life last Summer, enabled a friend and I to work a small digital art piece, in remembrance of its teaching to my soul.

      Thank~you for compiling,

      Christine

    • Marie Flint profile image

      Marie Flint 2 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Hi, Chris, I just thought I'd take a peek because I was curious whether this was about the American Indian tribe or the bird. The lead picture answered my question.

      My dad used to set traps and put them atop of the fence posts surrounding the corn field. Yes, he caught a few now and again.

      I'm not particularly fond of the critter, but they are smart. Maybe if the bird were a different color, I'd like them much more.

      This appears to be a very detailed and factual hub. ~~~

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Interesting collection!

      BTW, when I eventually worked out how to do a Mac version of 'right click' your suggestion for downloading Jennifer's photo worked, so thanks again, I've learnt quite a bit today!

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 2 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      Frank, if you are eating crow, why not do a recipe hub for us? Thanks for visiting.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 2 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      Ann, here are some more group names for you to think about: ostentation of peacocks, a parliament of owls, a knot of frogs, and a skulk of foxes. Thanks for reading.

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 2 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      Hi Bill, When I was growing up on the farm, I used to try to shoot crows with my shotgun and rifle. Never could hit one of those smart, diabolical birds. I wouldn't do that now, though. I appreciate all animals these days except rats. Thanks for visiting.

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 2 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      Ruby, thanks for visiting. I bet you have a field full of crows. Ravens hang out with them a lot, but are more solitary most of the time. If you can interact with them with some food, you might see some cool behaviors.

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 2 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      Uzochukw Mike, thanks for visiting my hub. It's nice to meet you.

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 2 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      Faith, thanks for visiting and reading, and for the vote up.

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 2 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      John, it looks like the currawong is a distant relative to the American crow. Beautiful birds with the white on the tail. The Australian raven is a closer relative in the corvus genus. It was fun learning a little more about these birds. After I wrote the short story about the little girl and the crows, I had to do something with the research. So here it is. Thanks for reading.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton

      I am part of the majority that gave this creature a bad wrap.. only because you find them in thrillers, evil plots.. and in cemeteries.. But they can be majestic in their own way.. thank you for sharing this little food for thought.. and I stand here eating CROW

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Crows are fascinating and very clever. I've heard about the 'funerals' before and it doesn't surprise me. They do get a bad press but I find all birds worthy of our respect.

      'Murder' of crows is my favourite collective noun. It doesn't help their image though, does it?!

      I enjoyed reading this informative hub about this characterful bird.

      Ann

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      They get a bad rap, don't you think? They are such smart birds.....diabolical at times, but smarter than hell. LOL Thanks for the great information.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 2 years ago from Southern Illinois

      As many know, I'm an avid bird watcher and feeder. I have black birds eating out of my feeders. I think they are crows or ravens. The field in front of my house is covered with black birds. ( It is a field where soy beans were planted last summer. ) I will now notice the wingspan to see the difference. Thank you for an enjoyable read..

    • Uzochukwu Mike profile image

      Uzochukw Mike 2 years ago from Oba

      These American Crows are great because they even have the ability to celebrate funerals.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

      What fascinating creature, so intelligent! I love this presentation here and I learned so much.

      Great hub, Cam!

      Up +++ tweeting and pinning

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      This is a very interesting hub Cam. I have seen a video of crows dropping walnuts on a busy road so that cars would run over them a crack the shells. Then they wait for the traffic light to turn red so the traffic is stopped for them to retrieve the nuts. We have a lot of crows where I live (Australian Crows..not sure of the difference) as well as Currawongs which look like a crow until they fly off...they have white underwing tips and white on the tail as well. Voted up.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 2 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      georgescifo, yes, it does look as though the American crow is larger than the House crow. From my reading, it seems that there may be many more House crows than American crows. Thanks for reading. Nice to see you here in my hub.

    • georgescifo profile image

      georgescifo 2 years ago from India

      The American crow provided in the image looks really bigger and feary that the one that we seen in India. Really interesting to see the big difference.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 2 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      Mel Carriere, Crows and Ravens are great subjects for our fiction writing. I just published here a two part short story featuring an 8 year old girl and crows, kittens too. Actually, the plot saved it from being a children's story. Go for the Raven novel. sounds great. Thanks for reading.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      I love crows and all of the Corvid family, including the Ravens and Jays. In fact, I have a novel brewing in my head about Ravens, who are close kissing cousins of the Crows. Therefore, I had to respond immediately to this when I saw it. Great hub and fantastic topic!

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 2 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      connorj, I've seen the one sliding down the snowy roof on a lid. Some people say he was just trying to see if the lid was edible, which seemed kind of silly to me after watching. it. Smart birds for sure. Thanks for reading.

    • connorj profile image

      John Connor 2 years ago from Altamonte Springs

      The BBC has a video archive of a crow (the most intelligent bird) solving a 7 step problem. There is a Russian video (on Wimp.com) of a crow ingeniously navigating a snow covered roof and sliding for enjoyment...

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